Roots of Life : Iekur fégato, Ficatul… the Liver, le Foie

Beef liver.
Beef liver. (Photo credit: This Year’s Love)
Liver of a sheep, visceral aspect 1 left lobe,...
Liver of a sheep, visceral aspect 1 left lobe, 2 right lobe, 3 caudate lobe, 4 quadrate lobe, 5 hepatic artery and portal vein, 6 hepatic lymph nodes, 7 gall bladder (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Anatomy of the biliary tree, liver and gall bl...
Anatomy of the biliary tree, liver and gall bladder (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: Lobes of liver
English: Lobes of liver (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


The bronze liver of Piacenza : names of Gods in sectors of the inferior aspect.

The aptly named Liver, from live, vital, maker of blood, covered in tale-tell membranes, vallonated, and mysterious in configuration, is the Gate of Gods, and the organ of true vision ( Annick de Souzenelle, Le symbolisme du corps humain ). SEMI caved is a syllabic reversal ( SYRE ) of ved-ca followed no doubt by metathesis and an initial digamma of ve-cad ( vve-cad > fe-cad ) in Yehuda Levy’s vision of  Hebrew is Greek,

Italian propietary
Iekur fegato
A case referred for living donor evaluation. T...
A case referred for living donor evaluation. The scan is performed by a multi-detector row computed tomography. The post-processing is done by the interpreting radiologist, Dr. I-Chen Tsai. The picture shows an unusual variation of hepatic artery. The left hepatic artery supplies not only left lobe but also segment 8. The anatomy makes right lobe donation impossible. Even used as left lobe or lateral segment donation, it would be very technically challenging in anastomosing the small arteries. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A, Etymology

fégato ( ITAL )

ficao ( SARD )

fécato ( NAPO )

fégat ( ROMG )

feghet ( BOLO )

figà ( VENE )

fédigo ( RMSC )

fétigo ( RMSC )

fidig ( PIEM )

fidegh ( LOMB )

ficàtum Jecur ( ITAL )

fedges ( PROV )

feie ( OFRA )

foie ( FRAN )

figado ( PORT )

higato ( SPAN )

ficat ( DARO )

< Sweet taste of swine liver ? ( Delâtre ) or „enggraissé aux FIGUES” – fattened ( Littré )

cf. sykoti ( HELL ) and sykon ( HELL )

cf yakrt ( SSKT ), > ficàtum Jecur ( ITAL )  figo yakrt figurat ?

( Courtesy of Francesco Bonomi – Vocabolario Etimologico della Lingua Italiana
Tutti i diritti riservati Copyright 2004-2008 )


HARU (ETRU) < gher-, ghor-na, „bowels, entrails” (PIEU)

The first element of the word haru_spex originates ultimately in

Proto-Indo-European gher-, ghor-na, „bowels, entrails„,

from which Latin hernia, „protruding viscera”, and hira, „empty gut”, also derive.

The second part of the word haru_spex, „observer„, is related to the Latin verb spicio, spicere, spectus, „watch”.

B. Ancient Babylonian hepatoscopy

( From 8000 INSC over 1200 years, starting around 1500 BC )

List of images in Gray's Anatomy: XI. Splanchn...
List of images in Gray’s Anatomy: XI. Splanchnology (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Babylonians were famous for hepatoscopy.

This Babylonian practice was mentioned in the Book of Ezekiel 21:21:

„For the king of Babylon stands at the parting of the way, at the head of the two ways, to use divination; he shakes the arrows, he consults the household idols, he looks at the liver.”
The liver was considered the source of the blood and hence the base of life itself.

From this belief, the Mesopotamians deemed the liver of special sheep the means to discover the will of the gods. The priest, called a bārû, was specially trained to interpret the „signs” of the liver and a monumental compendium of omens was assembled called the Bārûtu.

The Bārûtu, the “art of the diviner,” is a monumental ancient Mesopotamian compendium of the science of extispicy or sacrificial omens stretching over around a hundred cuneiform tablets which was assembled in the Neo-Assyrian/Babylonian period based upon earlier recensions.[1]:46

At the Assyrian court, the term extended to encompass sacrificial prayers and rituals, commentaries and organ models.[2]:619–620

The ikribu was the name of collections of incantations to accompany the extispicy.

The bārûtu’s extant predecessors date back to Old Babylonian times with the liver models from Mari (pictured right) and where the order of the exta were largely fixed.

The task of the bārû, or diviner, was summarized as

lipit qāti hiniq immeri naqē niqē nēpešti bārûti,

“the ‘touch of hand’, the restriction? of the sheep, the offering of the sacrifice, the performance of extispicy.”[3]:23

This required elaborate ritual purity, achieved through

washing hands and mouth,

donning fresh clothing,

placing tamarisk and cedar into the diviner’s ears,

anointing and fumigation with sulfur[3]:29 –

all measures to avoid the outcome of the apodosis lā ellu niqâ input,
“an unclean person has touched the sacrifice.”

The autopsy then proceeded in a counter-clockwise direction, beginning with the liver, the lungs, then the breastbone, vertebrae, ribs, colon and finally the heart.


1,0 The Text of the bārûtu
1.1 The Parts of the bārûtu
1.2 The Copyists of the bārûtu
1.3 The References on bārûtu

1.0 The text

The work is particularly difficult to interpret due to the extensive use of graphemes, but included an estimated 8,000 omens.[2]:620

These were the accumulation of a millennium and a half of observations of political, social and private events and the divinatory signs that accompanied them but bereft of their chronological context or other identifying marker and stylistically posed in the form of a prediction.

Occasionally, an attribution is made to a king, but it is inevitably archaic:

„Omen of Šarru-kīn whose troops were shut in by a rainstorm and exchanged weapons among themselves” (padānu tablet 4),[4]:193

“Omen of king Amar-Su’ena, who was gored by an ox, but died from the bite of a shoe” (padānu commentary),[4]:244

“Omen of king Tiriqqan, who in the midst of his army took flight” (pān tākalti tablet 6),[4]:351

“Omen of king Rimuš, whom his courtiers killed with their seals” (pān tākalti tablet 13),[4]:394 or

“Omen of the Apišalian, whom Narām-Sîn captured by tunnelling.”[5]

Some of the signs are identified as pitruštu, “ambiguous,” or by another „wild card” niphu, „unreliable,” while others echo modern concerns, šatammu ekalla imallalu, “the accountants will plunder the palace!”[4]:332

Some predict the weather: enūma lullik šamū ikallâni, “whenever I want to go out rain will stop me.”[4]:360

Some give quite specific predictions, edû rākib imēru irruba, “a famous person will arrive riding on a donkey,”[4]:462 while

others are vague, ina ūmi rūqi rigmu, “long-term forecast: lament.”[4]:349

Some predict li’ibu-, masla’tu- or qūqānu – disease or other disorders:

“If the pleasing word is split above and below: the man’s teeth will come loose.”[4]:62

The majority of the omens, however, concern royal and military affairs.

1.1 The parts of the bārûtu

The barūtû is divided into ten “chapters” (summarized in the table below), each dealing with a different aspect of entrail divination, but predominantly concerned with the examination of the

ṭuppu ša ilī, the „tablet of the gods,” or
the liver ( amūtu ) .[6]:98

The Babylonian and Assyrian versions vary slightly in arrangement due to the Babylonian predilection for sixty line tablets.[1]:52

Cuneiform    Akkadian    Name    Subject[7]    Tablet count[2]:620
1. BE GIŠ.DAL    šumma išru    The „fetlocks” (kursinnu) or „thighs”?    Also includes
KIŠIB.MEŠ ( kunukkū ), the „seal (impression)” = vertebrae,
KAK.TI, the rib cage, najabtu, the floating ribs or cartilages and
GAG.(=KAK.)ZAG.GA ( kaskāsu ), the breastbone[1]:46–47
2. BE ŠÀ.NIGIN    šummatirānu    The „intestines”    Parts of the sheep other than the liver and lungs, and includes the coils or convolutions of the sacrificial animal’s colon and the kidneys (BIR)[1]:50–51    8
3. BE NA    šummamanzāzu    The „presence” or „station”    The liver examination commences with the groove or reticular impression on the liver’s lobus sinister, known as the
KI.GUB ( naplastum ),
in the Old Babylonian period [6]:99
5, BE GÍR    (šummapadānu)

The „path”    Another groove on the liver’s lobus sinister, the abomasal impression on the ventral lobe perpendicular to the „station”. A series of obscure features of the facies visceralis consisting of twelve subsections:
NÍG.TAB ( maṣraḫ naṣrapti ),
the „dyeing vat” or „crucible” (lesser omentum? on the ventral lobe)
KA.DÙG.GA ( pû ṭābu ),
the „pleasing word”
KALAG ( danānu ), „strength”
(abomasal impression)
ME.NI/KÁ.É.GAL ( bāb ekalli ),

„palace gate” (umbilical fissure)[8]
SILIM ( šulmu ),

„well being” ( lobus quandratus )[6]:101
GÍR 15 ZÉ ( padān imitti marti ), „path to the right of the gall-bladder”
GÍR 150 ZÉ ( padān šumēl marti ), „path to the left of the gall-bladder,”

a groove on the lobus dexter of the liver
ŠUBAŠ.TE/ŠUB-(GIŠ)GU.ZA ( nīddi kussî ),

„base of the throne” ( impressio renalis? )
6. BE IGI.TÙN    ( šumma pān tākalti )
The „front of the pouch”

NE MU ( uncertain meaning ),

TÙR (tarbaṣ), „cattle fold” and kiṣirti, the „ridges”
MÁŠ (ṣibtu), „increase” (mammillary process)
DU8 2, 30, the „left fissure” (processus papillaris),

ZI 150 ( tīb šumēlim ) the „left rise”
and tīb šāri „rise of the wind”
Ni-ri (nīru), „yoke” ( omasal impression ) [4]:267ff
7. BE ZÉ    šumma martu    The „gall bladder”

Divided into the

“tip” (appu),

“top” (rēšu),

“middle” (qablu),

“bottom” (išdu),

“narrow part” (qutnu),

andmaṣrahu or cystic duct.

8. BE ŠU.SI    šumma ubānu    The „finger”    The „head of the liver,” the caudate lobe or caput iecoris on the left side of the liver, which was subdivided into the regions:
the „land” (KUR),
the „median area” (ṣēr bīrīti) and
the „palace” (ekallu)
9, BE GIŠ.TUKUL    šumma kakku    The „weapon” or „fortuitous markings”    A small piece of liver tissue that sticks out in the form of a club or peg[4]:48–51
10. BE ḪAR(=MUR)    šumma ḫašu    

The “lungs”[9]    Including the ‘middle finger’ (ubān hašî qablītu), or the accessory lobe of the right lung, and the “cap” (kubšu), or apical lobe? of the lung[10]
11. BE mul-ta-bil-tum    šummamultābiltu    „Analysis”, i.e., the “one who interprets”    Treats with the rules of association, ambiguous signs, extraordinary appearances and the šumma amūtuomens, for the liver as a whole[3]:36–37    17

File:Tablet bowels sheep Louvre 6033.jpgClay tablet representing the bowels of a sheep. The inscription reads: „Left and right meet on the right, and meet an end here”, in the Louvre.

Commentaries exist for each part to elucidate the esoteric character of the omens, called NÍG.PÀD.DA ( mukallimtu ), typically bringing together omens with similar protases from each chapter.[4]:31

Excerpts or corpendia were written to make the manual more user-friendly, such as that known as KAR 423 after its primary publication reference, and it was these truncated versions of the omens that seem to have been consulted during the actual divination process.

The dub ḫ tablets record observations derived from scholarly debates relating to the behavior of sacrificial lambs before and during the ritual and there were also “orientation tables” in the form of extispicy models (example pictured left) and interpretive grids to assist with the training of bārû.[11]

1.3 The copyists

The compendium seems to have been under progressive editorship as witnessed in correspondence of the senior diviners under Esarhaddon, Marduk-šumu-uṣur, Naṣiru, and Tabni, who collectively advised the king that

The series should be rev[ised]. Let the king command: two ‘long’ tablets containing explanations,

or antiquated words should be removed, and two tablets of the haruspices’ corpus should be put (instead).[2]:618–619

In 647 BC, at least 135 writing boards of bārûtu were expropriated from private collections, many from Bīt Ibâ, the subject of a Babylonian revolt.

Captive scribal labor was employed at the Assyrian capital to contribute to the local material assimilated from older libraries such as those of

Nabû-zuqup-kēnu, who was recorded as the copyist of a manzāzu commentary dated to 704 BC, from Nineveh.[2]:619

Nabû-ušallim, son of Nabû-pašer, was a bārû whose name appears on the colophon of one mukallimtu, and an individual by this name is known from amongst the authors of

divinatory queries, or tamītu, during the Neo-Assyrian period.[2]:620

By the late Hellenic period, the text of the series had beckme more ossified as astrology superseded extispicy as the preferred method of divination.

Exemplars include pān tākalti tablet 6, copied by Anu-aha-u šabši in 180 BC, Uruk, and

pān tākalti tablet 15 copied by Itti-Marduk-balāṭu, son of Ša-našī-šu, from late Babylonian Sippar.

The liver was divided into sections with each section representing a particular deity.

The Nineveh library texts name more than a dozen liver-related terms and before cuneiform writing was even deciphered, hints of the existence of Babylonian hepatoscopy were recorded in the Bible.

One Babylonian clay model of a sheep’s liver, dated between 2050 and 1750 BC, is conserved in the British Museum.[1]

The model was used for omen divination which was important to Mesopotamian medicine.

This study was carried out by priests and seers who looked for signs in the stars, or in the organs of sacrificed animals, to tell them things about a patient’s illness.

Wooden pegs were placed in the holes of the clay tablet to record features found in a sacrificed animal’s liver.

The priest or seer then used these features to predict the course of a patient’s illness.

Haruspicy was part of a larger study of organs for the sake of divination, called extispicy, paying particular attention to the positioning of the organs and their shape.

There are many records of different peoples using the liver and spleen of various domestic and wild animals to forecast weather. There are hundreds of ancient architectural objects, labyrinths composed of cobblestones in the northern countries that are considered to be a model of the intestines of the sacrificial animal, i.e. the colon of ruminants.

C. Etruscan haruspicy

The Etruscans were also well known for the practice of divining by the entrails of sheep.

A bronze sculpture of a liver known as the „Liver of Piacenza”, dating to around 100 BC, was discovered in 1877 near the town of Piacenza in northern Italy.

It is marked with the name of regions assigned to various deities of Etruscan religion.

In Etruscan mythology, Tarchon and his brother, Tyrrhenus, were culture heroes who founded the Etruscan Federation (or League) of twelve cities, the Dodecapoli.

One author, Joannes Laurentius Lydus, distinguishes two legendary persons named Tarchon, the Younger and his father, the Elder.[1]

It was the Elder who received the Etrusca Disciplina from Tages, whom he identifies as a parable.

The Younger Tarchon fought with Aeneas after his arrival in Italy.

The Elder Tarchon was a haruspex, who learned his art from Tyrrhenus, and was probably the founder of Tarquinia and the Etruscan League.

Lydus does not state that, but the connection was being made at least as long ago as George Dennis.[2]

Lydus had the advantage in credibility, even though late (6th century AD), of stating that he read the part of the Etrusca Disciplina about Tages and that it was a dialogue with Tarchon’s lines in „the ordinary language of the Italians” and Tages’ lines in Etruscan, which was difficult for him to read. He relied on translations.

In Virgil’s Aeneid, Tarchon, king of the Tyrrhenians, leads the Etruscans in their alliance with Aeneas against Turnus and the other Latian tribes.[3]

The legend fits well with Lydus’, as this Tarchon must been the younger, dating him to the century immediately after the Trojan War.

Nothing in the archaeology of Tarquinii and the other cities of the league contradicts these legends, as they were all founded in Late Bronze Age/Early Iron Age contexts; i.e., in one round number, about 1000 BC.

The legends indicate that Aeneas was not an Etruscan, that he arrived in an already existing Etruria, and that it is to be dated to before the Trojan War.


The Dodecapoli is:

Ancient/ Modern

Aritim/ Arezzo
Kisra/ Cerveteri
Clevsi-n/Clusium/ Chiusi
Curtun-a/ Cortona
Perusna/ Perugia
Pupluna/ Populonia
Tarχuna/ Tarquinia-Corneto (named after Tarchon the Younger)
Vatluna/ Vetulonia
Velathri/ Volterra
Velzna/ Orvieto
Velχ/ Volci
Veia/ Veio (an archaeological site)

Rusellae/ Roselle is incorrectly considered to have been part of the league by some modern authors.

Likewise, since Vipsul/ Fiesole was probably founded in the 9th-8th century BC and the Dodecapoli was founded by the Lydian brothers, Tyrsenos and Tarchon, who are both assumed to have lived in the 11th century BC, it is impossible that Vipsul was part of the league.

1.4 References

^ Lydus, Joannes Laurentius. „2.6.B”. De Ostentis.
^ Dennis, George; William Thayer (Editor) (1848, 2009). „Chapter XIX Tarquinii – The City”. The Cities and Cemeteries of Etruria. London, Chicago: John Murray, University of Chicago. p. 372 Note 5. Retrieved 24 June 2009.
^ Book VIII.506, 603; X.153, 290; XI.727, 746

The art of haruspicy was taught in the Libri Tagetici, a collection of texts attributed to Tages,

a childlike being who figures in Etruscan mythology, and who was discovered in an open field by Tarchon; the Libri Tagetici were translated into Latin and employed in reading omens.

Around 1900, a professor of anatomy, Ludwig Stieda, sought to compare this artifact with a Mesopotamian one dated to a millennium earlier.

If the Etruscans originated in Anatolian Lydia, as Herodotus suggested, haruspicy would have been among their inheritance from the Luwian heirs of the Hittites.[citation needed]

The continuity of the Etruscan tradition among the Romans is indicated by several ancient literary sources, perhaps most famously in the incident related by Suetonius [2]

in which a haruspex named Spurinna warned Julius Caesar to beware the Ides of March.

D. Roman haruspicy

The emperor Claudius was a student of the Etruscan language and antiquities, and opened a college to preserve and improve their art, which lasted until the reign of Theodosius I, the Christian emperor who dismantled the last active vestiges of the traditional state cult.[citation needed]

Further evidence has been found of haruspices in Bath, England where the base of a statue dedicated by a haruspex named Memor.[citation needed]

See also


^ BM WA 92668.
^ Suetonius, Divus Julius 81.

Walter Burkert, 1992. The Orientalizing Revolution: Near Eastern Influence on Greek Culture in the Early Archaic Age ( Thames and Hudson ), pp 46–51.
Derek Collins, „Mapping the Entrails: The Practice of Greek Hepatoscopy

American Journal of Philology 129 [ 2008 ]: 319-345
Marie-Laurence Haack, Les haruspices dans le monde romain

( Bordeaux : Ausonius, 2003 ).
External links

E, 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica, Volume 13 article on Haruspices

Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Haruspices.
Haruspices, article in Smith’s Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities
Figurine of Haruspex, 4th Cent. B.C. Vatican Museums Online, Gregorian Etruscan Museum, Room III
See also Haruspex on Wikipedia, and our 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica disclaimer.
HARUSPICES, or Aruspices (perhaps “entrail observers,”

cf. Skt. hira ( SSKT ), Gr. χορδή ( HELL ) ), a class of soothsayers in Rome.

Their art (discipline ) consisted especially in deducing the will of the gods from the appearance presented by the entrails of the slain victim .

They also interpreted all portents or unusual phenomena of nature, especially thunder and lightning, and prescribed the expiatory ceremonies after such events.

To please the god, the victim must be without spot or blemish, and the practice of observing whether the entrails presented any abnormal appearance, and thence deducing the will of heaven, was also very important in Greek religion.

This art, however, appears not to have been, as some other modes of ascertaining the will of the gods undoubtedly were, of genuine Aryan growth.

It is foreign to the Homeric poems, and must have been introduced into Greece after their composition. In like manner, as the Romans themselves believed, the art was not indigenous in Rome, but derived from Etruria.[1]

The Etruscans were said to have learned it from a being named Tages, grandson of Jupiter, who had suddenly sprung from the ground near Tarquinii. Instructions were contained in certain books called libri haruspicini, fulgurales,rituals.

The art was practised in Rome chiefly by Etruscans, occasionally by native-born Romans who had studied in the priestly schools of Etruria. From the regal period to the end of the republic, haruspices were summoned from Etruria to deal with prodigies not mentioned in the pontifical and Sibylline books, and the Roman priests carried out their instructions as to the offering necessary to appease the anger of the deity concerned.

Though the art was of great importance under the early republic, it never became a part of the state religion. In this respect the haruspices ranked lower than the augurs, as is shown by the fact that they received a salary;

the augurs were a more ancient and purely Roman institution, and were a most important element in the political organization of the city. In later times the art fell into disrepute, and the saying of Cato the Censor is well known, that he wondered how one haruspex could look another in the face without laughing ( Cic. De div. ii. 24 ).

Under the empire, however, we hear of a regular collegium of sixty haruspices; and Claudius is said to have tried to restore the art and put it under the control of the pontifices. This collegium continued to exist till the time of Alaric.


A. Bouché-Leclercq, Histoire de la divination dans l’antiquité (1879-1881); Marquardt, Römische Staatsverwaltung, iii. (1885), pp. 410-415;

G. Schmeisser, Die etruskische Disciplin vom Bundesgenossenkriege bis zum Untergang des Heidentums ( 1881 ), and

Quaestionum de Etrusca disciplina particula ( 1872 );

P. Clairin, De haruspicibus apud Romanos ( 1880 ). Also Omen.

↑ The statement of Dionysius of Halicarnassus (ii. 22) that the haruspices were instituted by Romulus is due to his confusing them with the augurs.